- by – thusitha pathirana –
Where are you studying?
I am an undergraduate at Wellesley College on a full scholarship. Currently I am spending my junior year at the University of Oxford reading Anthropology.
Do you have a job while studying?
Yes, I do. I come from a very ordinary single parent family and I’ve been doing part time jobs for the past three years while in university. I have worked at both a bar and a restaurant.
Do you see how a woman works in a liquor store?
I see competely nothing wrong in a woman working at a bar. If it’s a good enough job for a man then I don’t see why a woman doing the same should be looked down upon and criticized. No one is asking women to work the bar or purchase alchohol, all I am saying is that if she wants to she can independetly decide it for herself.
The government of Sri Lanka, by the 10th act of the Law, allowed women who were not employed in the liquor shops to do so and also lifted the ban on the use of liquor wholesalers in women. This was a disrespect for women, and some saw The idea?
This whole argument about this law been a sign of respect for women is a complete joke. There are many other urgent measures that could be if they had such a burning respect for women. I even heard MP Dayasiri Jayasekara mention that he was concerned about rising levels of alcoholism among rural women – I am surprised that he hasn’t heard that we have a 60% domestic violence rate in this country which means 6 out of 10 women get abused in the safety of their own homes (as we all know usually by alcoholic men) I wonder how banning WOMEN from purchasing alcohol is going to solve this. According to police statistics, over 33,000 cases of violence against women and children were recorded between 2005 and 2016. Incidences of rape and incest recorded by the police have increased by 40 percent in the last 10 years. In a country where women and girls as young as age 7 are getting raped and abused by their own husbands, fathers, uncles and grand fathers the government talking about ‘respect for women’ is ridiculous and hypocritical.
In Sri Lanka marital rape is still legal – which means our law allows a husband to legally rape his own wife. A 14 year-old girl was gang raped last week and she died a few days back. If our president and our cabinet ministers have a genuine concern for women’s issues there are burning issues that is putting our lives at risk as I write – why do they remain silent and clueless on these?
President Maithripala Sirisena has directly questioned the President of the above Act of the government. The President emphasized that the President was not aware that women could act independently and that a woman was raped for two days for raping her for two days … because this is because you live in Western culture and live on it?
I called out the president for his messed priorities, for turning a blind eye on the real issues facing women and to point out the double standards of banning ONLY women from purchasing alcohol or working the bar when most while nearly all alcohol related crimes are caused by men. I call that common sense. This law is discriminatory and unconstitutional and as a citizen I have the right to speak up. I grew up in a small village called Deraniyagala for the most part of my life. I know my roots quiet well. But I am not uneducated or uncivilized enough to confuse culture with the repression of women. Culture is subjective. Culture isn’t law or vice versa. Culture is the general excuse used by people when they have absolutely no logical reason as to why they shouldn’t get rid of a practice that is unfair or unreasonable. It differs from village to village, person to person. Your culture isn’t my culture. We all create, shape and change our cultures. It’s a personal thing. No one can impose a culture on another – to follow or not to follow is my personal choice.
There is talk about the matter regarding gender issues in Sri Lankan society. Are you thinking about this?
Gender is one’s personal choice, it is a social construct. The state cannot and should not decide on behalf of us what we should wear, eat, drink, who we should marry, when we should have children or where we should work based on our gender. Gender discrimination is a violation of our constitution. Sri lanka has produced some incredibly strong and powerful female leaders – it’s high time that we stop preventing women from becoming anything and everything they want to become.
The government has also opened a space for the administration of women through the representation of women representatives. Is It Women’s Place?
We need experienced, forward thinking, progressive female representation in parliament. Our political landscape is inherently sexist. There is no place for policy based politics. It mostly depends on two factors: family connections and how large your bank account is.
We need more budgetary allocations for women to run independently funded election campaigns so that post-election they’re not obligated to fulfill anyone’s personal agendas.
We need more effective training programs for both female and male candidates on giving them a deeper political, legal and social understanding and on running campaigns that are effective, ethical and transparent.
Finally, you say that Sri Lanka still treats the woman in a tribal environment?
We have come far. I’ve seen many progressive ministers, state institutions and individuals who have continued to speak up and take concrete action on issues faced by women. But when we see the recent comments by the President, Minister of Health – MP Rajitha Senaratne, and the Minister of Sports MP Dayasiri Jayasekara, it is evident that we’re taking a couple of steps backwards with every progressive move. I think it’s high time that we stop using women’s bodies, their independence and the length of their dress to protect our ‘culture’, to keep the Buddhist clergy happy and to garner votes right before an election.
But Buddhist monks are pointing out that such things are being done to end the respect that women have. Therefore, women are properly respected in a Buddhist society.
I have seen many progressive Buddhist clergy who have rightfully applied the teachings of Lord Buddha within the context of women. However we’ve also seen quite well the opposition that female Bhukkinis faced when they tried to secure Higher Ordination, I believe that is one of the highest forms of disrespect that you can show a woman. I fail to see how passing a discriminatory law that is completely based on assuming that women are weak and have no independence to decide for themselves could even remotely be considered a sign of respect. If Alcohol is an issue – ban it for both women AND men.
I wonder why our Venerable Mahanayakas haven’t spoken during the countless incidents of rape and child abuse. Why the Dalada Maligawa doesn’t allow women into the inner chambers after all the tooth relic was securely bought into Sri Lanka by none other than a women herself. In addition to this Buddhism is a philosophy, a way of life. One of Buddhism’s key tenants is based on making informed decisions for one self – I am confused as to why the buddhist clergy is trying to take this right away from just women?
What would you suggest to be a freelance woman in Sri Lanka to create a woman to work independently?
Our first step should be the Education system. Our students leave school without a basic understanding of their sexual and reproductive rights, respect or their basic freedoms. There have been numerous cases of young girls who have been continuously abused and raped in their own homes but never reported because they thought it was normal. We need to start talking to children about these issues in schools, to train them to speak up and take action and to have at least a rotational counsellor in every school. Every ministry official who stalled on putting together a comprehensive sex.ed curriculum in Sri Lanka, every teacher and school principal who refused to teach and implement the content, law makers and enforcement officers who failed to bring due justice to victims before – with every victim and perpetrator this country sees, they will have to share the blame.